The affliction is easy enough to diagnose: The hollow stare of red-rimmed eyes. Fingertips bitten to the quick. That fourth cup of coffee sloshing around a Red Sox travel mug held by jittery hands.
A World Series of taut, late-night thrillers is taking its toll on Bostonians. They nod off on the T, slack off at work, and, when night falls, they stumble back to the couch for yet another round of hardball joy-slash-punishment.
Red Sox Nation has become Zombie Nation. Even Monday night’s welcome 11 p.m. finish won’t go far in erasing the collective fatigue.
“If they lose, I’m up out of anger; if they win, I’m so excited I can’t get to sleep,” said Nick Argenio, a Verizon employee wearing a Red Sox jacket and resting on a park bench in Post Office Square. “I gotta get up four hours later for work. It’s killing me, it’s killing me.”
So cue the violins from envious baseball fans across the country whose teams are not the Cardinals or the Red Sox. They’d love to have Boston’s problems.
But — killjoy alert here — specialists who study the ill effects of fatigue say rooters may be overlooking the dangers of sleep deprivation. Fatigue most notably affects the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for self control and executive function, said Christopher M. Barnes, who studies the effects of sleep on workplaces and decision-making at the University of Washington (where fans of the moribund Seattle Mariners are snoozing peacefully this time of year).
Sleep-deprived people, Barnes said, are not only irritable, eating poorly, skipping exercise, and easily distracted, they are also more likely to behave unethically. Workplace injuries are also more common and tend to be more severe.
So it’s harder to resist the urge to cheat on a test, lie on an expense report, choose a cheeseburger over a salad, or flop on the couch instead of hitting the gym.
Extrapolating from research on sleep-deprived individuals, Barnes said the effects on an entire city slogging along without enough sleep could be quite grim. He predicted that workplace fights are likely to spike in Boston and mistakes on the job could increase.
As she staggered through City Hall Plaza, bleary-eyed Michelle Carli acknowledged that her business selling Revlon products may have suffered during the Sox’ monthlong playoff run. But she sounded the Fenway Faithful’s weary battle cry.
“If you live in Boston, you should be sleep deprived!” declared Carli, whose nightly slumber has slumped to four or five hours from her usual eight. To cope, she has cut out her morning workout at the gym.
Mike Cuellar, manager of Mike’s Fitness in Jamaica Plain — and namesake of the onetime star lefty for the Baltimore Orioles, whose fans are also getting their Zs — said the masses who typically exercise before work have disappeared since the Sox made the playoffs.
Paul Ledbetter, a City Hall electrician, was drinking a cup of coffee to help him power through until Monday’s first pitch at 8:07 p.m. Sunday night’s shocking win — when Boston closer Koji Uehara picked off dozing Cardinal Kolten Wong at first base — had kept him awake later than the previous night’s crushing loss on an obstruction call. After that debacle, he said, he fell asleep more easily “just to forget about it.”
David D’Aprile, a product marketing executive, has been doubling down on espresso to stay awake, and biting nails to weather the bases-loaded, nobody-out jams.
“It’s playoff time,” he shrugged.
Even people whose job it is to relieve stress understand that this particular form has a therapeutic benefit. Drew Freedman, owner of The Boston Bodyworker, a massage therapy practice in Copley Square, said the Sox’s success has buoyed spirits even as it has knotted backs and stiffened necks.
“The sleepless nights are as much medicinal as they are harmful,” he said.
Sleep specialists would prefer that Red Sox fans hit the pillow earlier and catch the highlights the morning after. But Dr. Matthew T. Bianchi, chief of the sleep medicine division of Massachusetts General Hospital, allowed that Sox deprivation could carry its own deleterious effects for a nation infected with World Series fever.
“For some people it would literally be a life and death thing if they don’t watch the Red Sox,” he said. “That’s its own diagnosis.”